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Brussels looks to drop Villo! and find cycle-sharing alternative

07:13 01/03/2023

The Brussels region is looking to end its contract with Villo! in 2026 and is in the meantime searching for a new bicycle-sharing company to team up with.

Brussels Mobility intends to roll out a new system that better meets the needs and wishes of Brussels residents, Bruzz reports.

It has already hired research firm TML (Transport & Mobility Leuven) to carry out a comparative four-phased study of the different shared bike networks used in other European cities, with results expected in just under a year.

The study includes an in-depth examination of existing systems and needs along with meetings with relevant local institutions and operators. Its last phase involves the presentation of recommendations.

The idea is that Brussels Mobility will then use those recommendations to work out a new system of shared bicycles and then put out a call for potential suppliers.

Many Brussels residents have been unsatisfied with the current Villo! system, which comes from French group and advertising panel company JCDecaux.

Users report that they often find it difficult to park their bikes at their chosen station, and empty or full stations have been an issue plaguing the system for years.

Jérôme Blanchevoye of Villo! agrees that this is one of the weakest points of the Villo! system in Brussels.

“It often happens that someone wants to put their bike back in a station where there is no more space,” Blanchevoye told Bruzz.

“In 99% of cases, there is a space nearby, but that is obviously not the desired station.”

Another complaint is that the 25kg yellow Villo! bikes are too heavy, and technical issues such as crooked wheels and handlebars or loose seats are common complaints, with maintenance slow to resolve them.

“They are indeed heavy, but they are above all solid, and deliberately built so solidly,” Blanchevoye said.

“We have seen quite a few bike-sharing systems come and go in recent years. Our bikes have been here for quite a while and stand the test of time relatively well.”

The issues that come with a bike being too heavy for users can be solved by making the bikes electric, but Villo!’s system for electrifying their bicycles is not terribly convenient. Subscribers to the system are mailed a battery, which they then have to charge and carry with them whenever they anticipate needing to use one of the bikes.

“That is indeed also a weak point,” Blanchevoye conceded. “Unlike other cities, in Brussels the decision was taken not to go 100% electric and leave people the choice.”

The arrangement between Brussels and the JCDeceaux has also been criticised for its very nature: some Brussels residents argue that a company whose primary business is advertising cares little for the issue of mobility in general.

In 2020, Brussels MPs questioned the fact that the 5,000 ordinary Villo! bikes were provided in exchange for some 545 advertising panels.

“All I can say is that JCDecaux does care about Villo! Users,” said Blanchevoye.

“Moreover, the bike system is not necessarily linked to the advertising system. In the city of Luxembourg, for example, we operate a shared bike system without any advertising. The advertising in Brussels serves mainly to keep the price as low as possible.”

According to Blanchevoye, Villo! in Brussels has around 22,000 users who take around a million rides a year.

Written by Helen Lyons